Anti-Abortion terror in the US
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/* ---------- "Anti-Abortion terror in the US" ---------- */
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Anti-Abortion terror in the US
Operation Rescue and other right-wing Christian fundamentalist groups over
the last nine years have carried out a campaign of terror and violence
against abortions clinics, their staff, especially doctors, and the women
who use their services. CLAUDETTE BEGIN, a leader of the San Francisco
Pro-choice Coalition and co-chair of the East Bay National Organisation of
Women's Reproductive Rights Task Force, described the campaign to defend the
clinics to Green Left Weekly's CATHERINE BROWN.
Through July and August, the pro-choice forces mobilised regularly to defend
clinics throughout the Bay Area around San Francisco. ``You don't just stand
at a clinic; you organise like an army, with the equivalent of generals and
leaders on strategy. At each clinic there are captains with walkie-talkies.
``You have to mobilise like soldiers essentially'', explained Begin. ``Women
are not usually trained in hand-to-hand combat. What happens is Operation
Rescue, when they come to a clinic, generally try to push through the line
physically. So the men are in the front kicking and trying to get in between
Given the level of intimidation and violence the anti-abortionists will
resort to (one doctor was murdered and another shot), security is important.
The Bay Area defence was organised from a command centre. Captains are
supplied with a phone number, but few are given an address.
The atmosphere is electric at the clinics: ``antis'' screaming obscenities
at the defenders and trying to break through the defence line, defenders
trying to shield women using the clinics and, through a well-rehearsed
technique, get them in the clinic doors without breaking the line.
The attacks against abortion clinics by Operation Rescue and other
fundamentalist groups in 1991 and 1992 were a new strategy. The arson,
bombing and butyric acid attacks by the most fanatic were applauded, if not
carried out, by the more rabid anti-abortion organisations.
Begin gives a lively account of how the pro-choice movement has organised to
defend and keep abortion clinics open in the face of this organised,
well-funded and often violent opposition.
``Operation Rescue tries to portray its organisation as regular
working-class Americans, everyday Joes. They have stories about people
arriving in their beat-up old cars, having driven hundreds of miles to a
clinic, trying to create the mystique of the average person. They actually
say its image is patterned on the civil rights movement of the 1950s'', said
In contrast with this image, the anti-abortion movement, despite
representing a minority, commands resources far beyond its numbers. Its
millions of dollars' worth of propaganda are distributed internationally as
well as in the US. During Ireland's 1992 referendum on abortion, the
opposition relied on anti-abortion material from the US.
First, Operation Rescue targets a city, making a public announcement that it
will come and terrorise an abortion clinic to close it down, explained
Begin. Sometimes, in anticipation, a clinic would close down temporarily
just to avoid a confrontation.
In the first major defeat for Operation Rescue in 1991, the mayor of Buffalo
actually invited them to come. Women were so outraged by this, for weeks in
advance they organised a defence campaign, explained Begin. ``There was just
a general feeling that we were going to outmobilise Operation Rescue people.
When they came, it wasn't going to be police and the courts that were going
to meet them, rather hundreds and thousands of Buffalo citizens and women.''
Buffalo, known as a Catholic city, is an old industrial town with miserable
weather, commented Begin. Operation Rescue, confident after the defeat of
the pro-choice forces the year before in Wichita, was shocked by the
hundreds of women, including Catholic women, who mobilised to defend the
Buffalo clinics. The defeat deeply demoralised Operation Rescue. ``For the
first few days the `antis' didn't come out of the church!''
``The Lambs of Christ are even more vicious than Operation Rescue. One year
they used the `minute men' - 300 pound guys who charged the line; obviously
that's bit harder to withstand.'' Public outrage after media coverage of
women fending off the ``minute men'' forced the Lambs of Christ to drop this
Begin described the training sessions, at which women are taught how to lock
arms, where to place their feet, how to cross their legs with the person
next to them. ``This is like a real picket line. We're doing everything that
is legal to defend the clinic.
``A number of the clinics felt they didn't want swarms of people in front of
them. Do you then defend a clinic that doesn't want a pro-choice defence,
was a question the movement had to decide on'', added Begin. ``You have
disparate interests among clinic owners. Some are medical people, others
non-profit and some are run by the self-service part of the women's
``Once there are hundreds of people at the clinic, then what do you do? Do
you do what the police say, which is that you stand over there and Operation
Rescue should sit over there. Normally, the police are more on Operation
Rescue's side. Even in San Francisco we have problems with the police.
``The police tend to treat this like it is a domestic dispute. So the police
tend to take the approach `Well how can we tell who is doing what? After
all, it is just two different sides.''' A police inspector at one of the Bay
Area clinics told the defenders and Operation Rescue, ``When you go home
today, I want you both to feel like you achieved something''.
Begin contrasted the approach the police took when the World Trade Centre
was bombed. ``They didn't say, `Well it was between two sides - people who
like to use the Centre and people who like to bomb the Centre. They don't
Police claim to defend Operation Rescue's right to free speech but are ready
to move on pro-choice activists defending a legal service. The clinics, of
course, are on private property and the ``antis'' trespassing often damage
property and assault people. Nevertheless, there have been no prosecutions.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is currently investigating how the
message on the answering machine at the Planned Parenthood clinic in San
Jose was replaced by an anti-abortion message.
At the Santa Fe Planned Parenthood clinic local women, who use a range of
services there, spontaneously rang in for appointments on the week Operation
Rescue had announced it would target the clinic.
Sometimes the ``antis'' bring children, mentioned Begin, shaking her head in
disbelief. ``You can see the children are terrified; they've been told we
For the last two years, doctors have been targeted as ``the weakest link''
in the abortion process, according to Operation Rescue's head, Randall
Terry. He said, ``We are going to shame them, humiliate them, disgrace them,
and expose them''.
Two weeks before the murder of Dr David Gunn on March 10, Terry proclaimed,
``Intolerance is a beautiful thing. We are going to make their lives hell.''
In September another doctor was shot.
``When Gunn was shot, people were just outraged. How could you do that?
Clinton had just been elected and there was an expectation that there
wouldn't be this sort of problem. The tide was just `No way! Tell us when
Operation Rescue will be there and so will we.' Especially men then came out
and wanted to help defend clinics.''
There is a national shortage of doctors to perform abortions. Only 12% of
medical training schools in the US now teach the termination procedure. With
the campaign against doctors becoming more violent and systematic, active
support for doctors has become important.
In the last year, Operation Rescue tried a new technique of ``Wanted for
Murder'' posters with doctors' photos, their address, their children's names
and schools. The posters are distributed at the doctors' children's schools,
up and down the street in which the doctor lives, at their local shopping
centre or church.
``As a result, some of the doctors have become more political. We have been
sending out overtures to them and some of the doctors have responded by
asking for help. Many doctors are afraid but don't want to stop. We have
provided protection on the day a particular doctor might work at a clinic
and have given out support leaflets for doctors to give to their neighbours
to put in their windows.''
``It is time'', points out Begin, ``to mount a campaign to expose the
anti-choice fanatics, by demanding a real federal investigation and
prosecution of the terrorists who bomb, set fires, inject butyric acid and
kill. Authorities have been complicit by not treating these attacks